Chateau Latour, Pauillac, Bordeaux: My first… “first-growth”.

LE GRAPE ESCAPE

 

This is a long post. It has to be. Look at the title.

 

 

The bottles next to them be even older.

I am pathetically excited as I make my way up towards the most famous of all wine areas in the world: The Medoc, Bordeaux. I am going to Disneyland.

The Medoc is home to the finest Chateaus in the world and 112 years ago a list was made that catagorised these vineyards into order of reputation and trading price (which equated to quality back then), it was called “The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification 1855”. The wines were ranked from first to fifth “growths”. Chateau Latour made the cut with only three others… with Mouton-Rothschild (Going there on Wednesday. Na na na na na!) being added a while late. These are still amongst the most expensive wines available and, whilst some exist from other classifications – and indeed other areas without classification – of at least almost equal quality and price, these are still considered the very very best.

I arrive at a beautiful stone archway just off the road from Pauillac. It is the outer perimeter gate and you can drive no further… unless you get out of the car and you are expected. Once confirming that “Qui, that is my name” the bollards are lowered and I am directed to follow the sign for visitors parking. On the way: you drive past what is perhaps the most iconic tower in modern wine: La Tour.

“La Tour” is not original by any means and, in fact, is relatively late.  It was built in the 1620s near the footprint to the original 1331 tower. The new one was designed as a pigeons roost  and is about 70 metres away from the original. On the other side of the winery, which surrounds a lawned courtyard,  and about 5 metres into the vines sticks out the sculptured iron “bucket hanger” for a well. This water well, it is believed, marks the site of the old “Tor à Saint-Lambert”. The Tor was built in war and died in war. In 1453 it was destroyed, during the Battle of Castillon; which was the battle that marked the end of the Hunded-Years-War between the French and the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England.

I am greeted warmly and led into a modern sitting-room with giant ceilings, large sofas and an enormous flat-screen on the wall. I am asked to watch a video detailing three years in the life of Latour – from vine to bottle, effectively, of Le Grand Vin (The big wine). It’s a pretty decent room. It’s very Bond but with views onto the vines outside. The video is brilliantly filmed, hugely interesting.

After the film I am led through the courtyard into “L’enclos” – L’enclos is the name given to the 40 or so hectares of vines immediately within the walled perimeters of the chateau. Latour has about 90 hectares but some pockets are a little further away; outside of the security entrance that I passed through earlier. It is explained to me that the terroir is unique due to it’s proximity to the Gironde estuary, which I can see immediately above the vines a few hundred metres away. The estuary comes straight in from The North Atlantic Ocean. The soil changes from a gravely clay to a soily sand as it reaches further inland. The vines are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot (about 22% with 2% Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc). That leaves 76% for the beast. They are all organic and some portions could be categorised as biodynamic. Biodynamic is to organic what fruitarian is to veggie. It’s nuts. And although there are tractors; it’s the horse-drawn carriages that fill in the silence of this broad estate.

Now to the chai, the winery, the magic. Over 90 stainless-steel tanks fill three huge rooms just under ground; newly purchased after Francois Pinault, in 1993, bought the Chateau and went about its modernisation, . These are all individually temperature controlled, as is the the entire room, as is the humidity. The tanks are mostly empty and have been cleaned ready for harvest. They’re massive, they’re new, they make wine, they’re remotely temperature controlled. They’re not bad.

 

Next I see the sorting room where the grapes will arrive, during vandages (harvest) before being sifted through, pressed and sent to those same, mammoth tanks next door. All in just over a months time. They’ll be full. All 90-whatever of them.

The barrel room next (the vastness of the place now blasé. It is, again, mainly empty – awaiting the arrival of the new French oak barriques used to make Le Grand Vin. Some old empty barrels are are still here though, destined to be used for the second or third label wines of Latour: Les Forts de Latour and Le Paulliac. Those that are full are downstairs in the “2nd year room”… we head there. I’m getting more and more exited as I move through this place. Its bloody insane:  and now it’s full. You’ve got all of these barrels aesthetically stacked upon each other, in a properly neat room, which can hold 1600 barrels, and you’re thinking… that is a tonne of bloody stock price right there. Huge.

I don’t want to leave; but on we must, and my awe continues as we head into the storage for bottled wine. Here they have tall metal containers filled with vintage after vintage. Tonnes of the stuff. And theres a reason there’s so much of it.

  • Traditionally you just make the wine (i.e. {for Bordeaux red wine} grow the grapes, pick them,  remove anything you don’t want except the berry with its stem and its skin, squash them, put them in a vat, ferment them slightly whilst pouring the wine ontop of itself (to stop a cap of floating grape skin and pulp forming), remove everything except wine and stick it in a barrel}. Yep. And that’s me jumping over most of the processes. It’s not casual.
  • After this you take wine directly out of the barrel – journalists and merchants try it – you fix a price basesd upon many reasons including what the journo’s say and then… they just buy it… hopefully. After a while you bottle it, then you label it and send it to them. It’s not yours. It’s all already been sold. The buyers then store and  keep it for 6,7,10 years until it’s ready to be sold… and maybe kept as an investment or traded by the buyer, or drunk (thats the one we like!!). This method of selling it, even before it’s bottled, is known as en primeur.
  • Latour, at around the turn of this decade, made a choice. They decided that they were going to play things a little differently. Instead of selling it now, based on what they and others think it’s going to be like in 6,7,10 years time… they keep it. All of it. They wait until the wine in the barrel is ready… and then they bottle it and then they hold it in a perfect environment, underground, at the heart the of vineyard (indeed it is right under the grass of the courtyard above). Here they wait, opening a bottle when the want to check it, before eventually they play their hand. “This is what it’s worth: would you like me to label it and wrap it in ‘Latour’ paper and put it in a wooden box and sell it to you now, Sir?”. “But of course, I’ll take two hundred”. Cases. Obviously.

And so there’s this room filled with thousands upon thousands of bottles of Chateau Latour in giant cages – mostly bottles from 2010 onwards but lots of other vintages too – waiting for their time; just holding back for a rainy day . Its magnificent. But not as magnificent as the next room. The Vinoteque.

The vinoteque, basically a wine library of Latour, was described as the format room. Here they hold the larger size bottles, all gorgeously presented in frankly what must be one of the coolest room on earth. Here you have the Magnums and the Jeroboam’s and the Methusela’s; the big bottles. I find the one of my birth year but you can’t buy them (even if you do have the cash on you) and it’s tricky to sneak a jeroboam out under your shirt… so it’ll have to stay there for now. Because I don’t have the cash on me. And my shirt fits. Obviously.

How it could get better; I’m not sure. But off we went, up to ground level and out into the courtyard. We pass into the wing that holds the labelling and packaging technologies, readying all these boxes of some of the finest wines in the world and I’m looking at them and thinking: “how much?” Lots. If you need to ask…

Through another security door and there is the most classical limestone staircase, incredibly lit, leading elegantly downwards to a limestone-clad room with three metal gates afore you. It is perhaps the greatest room on earth, before or after the vinoteque library of massive bottles. This is ‘Le Cave’ and holds examples of the chateaus finest and rarest vintages within three corridors behind locked gates. The seven oldest bottles in there have glass stoppers for corks and Latour has no idea how old they could be… except they know it must be older than the ones next to them. These are labelled, and they are corked with the mark “Chateau Latour 1863”. That be old. That be damned old. That’d be 154 years old.

Well… The bottles next to them be even older.

It is a truly awesome place.

 

 

Let’s taste…

Pauillac, 2010:

An easy drinker. Choose this by the pool in St. Tropez before you head out for dinner to treat that special someone.

Ready to drink. Lively, fruitful and light on the nose. It’s feel in the mouth is just as effortless. with more zing. There’s a roundness. It’s difficult to explain but as easy wines go… this is top bracket.

Not much signs of age but there wouldn’t be. Nor will there and nor should there.

 

Les forts de Latour, 2011:

This is a slightly more deliberate wine. It’s what you pull out when you’re proposing to that special someone – and a ring obviously (don’t want to get anyone in trouble now!).

Still fresh on the nose, without any hint of over-oaking. More so on the palette than the nose are hints of plumier, jammier, black berries than Latour’s third label, Pauillac. This, in contrast, is still developing enormously though and there’s room for it. It’s softness comes not because it’s straightforward but because the amount of Merlot blended into the Cab Sav (which can be a bit of a horse), pulls the reigns on it.

A very good wine that will improve but will never send you to the moon.

 

Le Grand Vin de Latour, 2004:

Save this for the father of that special someone. He might need it.

As complex, as plummy and as rich as a Bullingdon Club birthday boy.

What can you say. I was, of course, looking forward to it and was by no means disappointed.

Already a light garnet, the nose probably doesn’t give as much sign of ageing as the appearence. It is layered though; a minerality is sticking it’s hand up and it’s joined with just the very tip of a Cuban cigar. This is going to build with time in the bottle and those tannins will become finer still. In 2017 it’s still a grower; not a shower. But it’s seriously impressive.

It’s the first I’ve tried. But: and I’m going with the wine worlds opinion on this: if the 2009 and 2010 after this- and all those amazing vintages before – really are much better than it this… they must be pretty damned epic. And I want.

 

It is a morning that I shall never forget. It was cool.

 

IMG_1299

Chateau Latour, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Stunning.

IMG_1357

Ditto.

IMG_1363

The Tour itself, leading to the courtyard entrance.

IMG_1380

No mistaking where we are.

IMG_1264

Watching a film whilst having a read.

IMG_1271

The tanks.

IMG_1270

Very fancy.

IMG_1272

A room of barriques. Full of Latour. Wait… if one of those barrels is worth £300,000, then…

IMG_1290

Party anyone? Le Cave. Perhaps the coolest cellar on Earth.

IMG_1292

Top left… the glass stops. They don’t even know how old. That’s how old. Next to the 63’s. 1863’s.

IMG_1354

An early veraison (ripening) at Chateau Latour.

IMG_1297

I’ll have the one on the right.

IMG_1293

Actually I’ll have them all.

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Chateau Latour, Pauillac, Bordeaux: My first… “first-growth”.

  1. Very jealous of your travels, George! Looks like you’re having an amazing time. Looking forward to reading more, and hopefully enjoying a glass with you on your return; that is if any of your purchases actually make it back to West London.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s